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UK local elections: Conservatives lose ground in London, elsewhere

With the early results out, the dust of the UK local elections settles and from the midst of it, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party emerges beaten and scarred losing control of traditional strongholds in London and elsewhere.

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Johnson’s party witnessed a debacle being ousted from Wandsworth, a low-tax Conservative stronghold since 1978. This slowly grows into a tendency in the British capital where voters harnessed the elections to give vent to their anger over a cost-of-living crisis and fines imposed on the PM for breaking his own COVID-19 lockdown rules.

For the first time, the opposition Labour Party won the council of Westminster, a district where most government institutions are located. The Conservatives also lost control of the borough of Barnet, which has been held by the party in all but two elections since 1964.

Fantastic result, absolutely fantastic. Believe you me, this is a big turning point for us from the depths of 2019 general election,” Labour leader Keir Starmer told party supporters in London.

The early polls suggest that despite suffering losses in some of its traditional southern heartlands, support for the Conservative party continued in areas of central and northern England that backed Brexit in 2016.

The ballot comes as an electoral litmus paper for PM Johnson who also became the first British leader in living memory to have broken the law while in office. Fined last month for attending a birthday gathering in his office in 2020, breaking social distancing rules then in place to curb COVID’s spread, PM Johnson publically atoned, nonetheless.

The Conservatives were almost wiped out in London’s key councils — something that will put even more pressure on Mr Johnson, who has been grasping at straws for political survival for months and faces the possibility of more police fines over his attendance at other lockdown-breaking gatherings.

“I, of course, accept that these are challenging times and there have been some difficult results. However, I do not accept that Labour have the momentum to form the next government,” the Conservative party’s co-chairman Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Friday.

Johnson’s embittered political kin

The elections held on Thursday will decide almost 7,000 council seats, including all those in London, Scotland and Wales, and a third of the seats in most of the rest of England.

Outside London, the Conservatives lost overall control of councils in Southampton, Worcester and West Oxfordshire.

Still, the party has pulled it off better than some polls had predicted. One poll in the run-up to the elections said the Conservatives could lose about 800 council seats.

However, some local Conservative council leaders called on Johnson to resign after the party’s poor performance, which they blamed on him being fined and the cost-of-living crisis.

John Mallinson, Conservative leader of Carlisle city council, told the BBC that had found it “difficult to drag the debate back to local issues”.

“I just don’t feel people any longer have the confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth,” he said.

Simon Bosher, the most senior Conservative in Portsmouth, said the party’s leadership in Westminster needed to “take a good, long hard look in the mirror” to find out why they had lost seats.

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